Trader Joe's, 4705 SE 39th

So your S.O. arranged a little holiday gathering and told you one hour before--and said something like, "I'll be working late, so could you maybe pick up some snacks for about 15 people?"

Don't kill your S.O.! Aside from the fact that you'll probably regret it shortly after, it's also a crime, punishable by a big fat jail sentence. Here's a better idea: Go to Trader Joe's, home of the build-it-yourself party platter.

Party platters are a swell idea: Save the party-giver some time by chopping up the vegetables for them and providing the dip. Trouble is, it's the dip that makes the party platter, and the caliber of dip sold at places like Safeway and Fred Meyer has disintegrated into a sadly disgusting mixtures of mayonnaise and dried powdered spices. Trader Joe's, however, is a dip connoisseur's wonderland: a giant selection of dips that raise the bar on acceptable compliments to baby carrots.

Take the hummus, for example. Trader Joe's has so many different kinds of hummus: sundried tomato, tomato basil, eggplant, and garlic. While spicy and thick, they're still mass-produced: a far cry from the delicacy they serve in Lebanon and Turkey (or what you could make at home, for that matter) but they're a far better alternative to bad Ranch.

Hummus isn't the only option. The tzatziki is also splendid--a consistent, light texture composed of pepper and cucumbers. The baba ghanoush is of a similar calibre. But the best dip available here is the bruschetta. It's kind of like salsa, except with tons more oil and basil and fewer jalepenos.

Here's another perk to Trader Joe's: you can make up for the extra money spent on dips (they run about $2-3 for 8 ounces) by buying bags of super-cheap carrots. Most party platters come with broccoli and cauliflower, but really, have you ever seen anyone eat the cauliflower? At Trader Joe's, you can buy bags of baby carrots for incredibly cheap (about $1 per pound). With $15 worth of carrots and dip, plus a few six-packs of PBR, your S.O. should have nothing to complain about. KATIA DUNN